ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It is, I have learned, easy to be kind.
Fun, even. Rejuvenating, reaffirming, warming. And yet I am not always as kind as I could be.
We are living in a time of snark and bark, a time of war on women, war on Christmas, war on wars. We fight over men in duck camo, women in running shoes. We draw lines in the sand because we choose to patronize Chick-fil-A or Starbucks. We argue over Santa Claus’ ethnicity.
I think it’s safe to say that 2013 was a Grumpy Cat kind of year, and not very kind.
I thought of that the other day as I sat fuming, irritated at how long the line was at the Starbucks drive-through at Eubank and Central.
But when I reached the window, a cheery barista announced: “The car in front of you paid for your drink.”
My jaw dropped. And then I smiled. I couldn’t stop.
That small random act changed the whole trajectory of my morning. It was as if the clouds of gloom had parted to reveal sunshine and rainbows and unicorns.
I’m only half-exaggerating.
I decided to keep the momentum going. Down Central, I pulled into Golden Pride, where the drive-through line was just as long as the one at Starbucks. Somehow, that didn’t matter.
At the window, I paid for the carne adovada burrito ordered by the man in the car behind me. I drove off, still smiling.
It was a good day.
That evening, I met a friend for dinner in Nob Hill. While she waited for me in the bar, she struck up a conversation with a guest at the next table. He told her about an experience he had that day in which he felt compelled to offer a ride to a crippled man and his two small children. This, the guest told her, was not a typical thing for him to do. But he couldn’t drive by after seeing the man struggling to walk.
“Something pulled me back,” he told her.
The man, he said, was grateful, the children were delightful and the guest just felt good about it all.
My friend told him she understood. Just that day, she had paid for the car wash of the person behind her for no reason other than she could. It made her day.
Later that night as my friend and I had dinner upstairs, a woman came bounding breathlessly toward us and deposited a sparkly bag on our table. The bag contained an expensive bottle of wine, a Christmas gift I had given to my friend that had inadvertently been left at the bar.
The woman had made the effort to find us in a crowded restaurant to return the gift when it would have been just as easy to walk away with it.
That random act of kindness was a greater gift than the wine.
Random acts of kindness remind Lori DeAnda of her son, Kevin, a young man known for giving his last dollar and his priceless smiles to anybody who needed them.
“Kevin would literally give people the shirt off his back,” she said. “I know because several times I had to get it back.”
He was jovial and loving, with an IQ approaching genius level. But he was also sick with a variety of mental illnesses, severe sleep apnea and autism.
He lived in a group home under 24-hour care, and he died in that home when that care proved negligent.
It was New Year’s Eve 2008. He was 25.
In the five years since then, Lori DeAnda has become a strong advocate for the developmentally disabled. She also fought to hold accountable New Pathways Inc., a residential treatment center that runs the home Kevin died in. This fall, she finally achieved that goal when the state Supreme Court refused to hear the agency’s appeal of a 2011 jury verdict that found it negligent in Kevin’s death.
But DeAnda wanted Kevin’s legacy to be something more than a wrongful death lawsuit and her broken heart.
“I decided that I could either let this kill me or do something positive in his honor,” she said. “We talked about a statue for the church, a donation somewhere in his name.”
And then she thought about random acts of kindness.
“Kevin always had a kind word or gesture for others, even in his darkest moments,” she said. “It brought him great joy to bring a smile to someone’s face.”
That became the impetus behind Kheaven Sent, which launched Dec. 6 via Facebook and a website. The endeavor promotes random acts of kindness. Coincidentally, on the day I had dinner with my friend the suggested act of kindness was paying for someone’s carwash.
DeAnda said she and her husband have found joy in handing out $50 gift cards to those they have chosen at random.
She imagines Kevin smiling just as broadly as her unexpected beneficiaries.
Random acts of kindness need not cost anything more than just a friendly smile, a generous word, an offer to volunteer, she said. Not everybody can pay for someone’s coffee at Starbucks.
DeAnda is applying for nonprofit status for Kheaven Sent so that she can seek grants and donations to fund scholarships for individuals with developmental disabilities or mental illness and their siblings.
“All the while, we will continue to encourage people to be a little nicer to one another and share kindnesses as a way of honoring Kevin’s legacy,” she said.
It may also be a way to make 2014 a little kinder. Try it. It’s easier than you think.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.